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March 23, 2014: Search and Rescue – the Real Deal

Today I learned that search and rescue training is one thing, but that real searches are quite another. With training, the focus is on a single dog (though at the same time other dogs might be being worked with), and there is little communication between the various dog handlers. There is also a set day and training time. With the real deal, those in charge at a predetermined base camp keep in touch, via radio with the handlers. (Everyone can then listen in on all the conversations.) The terrain on a real-life search is sometimes far ranging. There are also, in many instances, a helicopter or two buzzing around. Oh, and yeah, there are state trooper vehicles and state troopers working on these searches.

Alaska State Fairgrounds

In addition, there are ground pounders, which are searchers who are working independently of the dogs, and sometimes, like today, news people hoping to get in on a good story.

I was out last night when Pete learned that a search was taking place across from the Alaska State Fairgrounds. So he went out and gave an assist, and consequently arrived home quite late. We both got up at 6:15 a.m. and were on site at 8 a.m. It was looking like it was going to be a sunny day, although there was a slight nip in the air.

It was quite the day. I was primarily a support person for the K-9 search and rescue people. I started out with Vikki Gross, who owns Tya, a German shepherd, and we did two assignments, first was checking out the wooded area near the subject’s house, and then checking out the Alaska Demolition site. There was a huge pit there, which was partially filled with demo debris. We had a good time checking out the interior of several trailers and bulldozers. As I thought, this is where I’d go to hunker down if I needed a shelter for the night. In the afternoon, I headed out with Patty and her black lab Abbey. We searched a residential area and a gravel pit.

It was then that things got somewhat confusing. The helicopter landed, and Patty and Abbey took a ride home, leaving Kathy and me. I immediately joined up with Pete and Jim. Unbeknownst to me, there wasn’t enough room in the helicopter for Kathy, who headed back in the direction of base on foot. Had I known that she was then alone, I would have stuck with her. So Pete, Jim, and I trotted off with a news camera man on our trail. Minutes later, we inadvertently ditched him by sliding down a steep embankment. He could not follow us because he was carrying a big, honking video camera. Poor guy, no one would talk to him.

Pete and Jim and I continued uphill, to a ridge where we found two sets of tracks. Jim then got on the radio and requested that a dog and handler be sent to check the area. Pete then took off in order to meet up with Donna and her dog Kip. Once back at the road, Donna and Pete decided not to check out the tracks because they matched the tracks of some kids in the area.

Jim and I were then joined by Keith and Jake (ground pounders). Together, we walked about a half-mile along the ridge—then after resting a bit, the latter decided to take a helicopter ride back to base. Jim and I then walked the rest of the way back to base, quite literally taking the high road.

Suffice to say, the missing person has not yet been found. There are some who think that perhaps she hitchhiked and ended up someplace else. If she did stick around, the odds of her still being alive are fairly slim. A rather depressing thought, for sure.

So tomorrow, Sunday, Pete and I may go out again and do yet another day of searching. The problem is that there are no clues – and really, until something materializes, the likelihood of this individual’s being found is quite slim. But Pete and I decided to give an assist tomorrow, as did nearly everyone who was involved today.

I’m looking forward to the day in which Ryder participates in her first official search. It will be a while, maybe two years or so. She has to get many more training miles under her ruff.

Next: 83. 3/24/14: Dog and Pony Show: On the Home Front